Saturday, February 12, 2005

Un-der-ra-ted

OK, I hate when teams bitch and moan about being underrated. There are few things worse than listening to the Patriots cry about how they get no respect when they have been compared with the NFL's all-time great teams.

That said, DePaul is one of the most underrated programs in the country. They have a scant few votes in the polls yet sit at 16-5 and a 1/2 game out of first place in Conference USA, and that's only because they have played one less game. On Saturday they pummelled Cincinnati 85-66.

It doesn't help DePaul's PR department that Illinois is the country's best story thus far this season. The Blue Demons' main rival is doing a great job of drawing virtually all of the attention in Chicago.

That's not a bad thing. Under the radar, baby, under the radar.

Quemont Greer (below) may be the most underrated player in the county.



Drake Diener may be the most underrated member of the Diener family.

More on the Demons soon.

DEEEEEE for THREEEEEE!!!!



Dee Brown has found a spot in my personal pantheon of all-time favorite athletes. It's official.

When Brown nailed a pair of three-pointers late in Illinois' 70-59 win over Wisconsin, there was no longer any doubt as to the outcome of this clash between Big Ten heavyweights. Both treys came from well behind the arc and with a defender in his face. The Badgers were hanging on for dear life at the time. The game clock was running out and they needed a stop bad. And Brown put them out of their misery. Twice. Cool as ice.

Brown is all heart and soul, mouthpiece, headband, braids and all. Everything the Illini does beats through him. And Brown loves it. You can tell. Offense, defense, whatever. He loves to orchestrate the mayhem.

The guy who does the arena announcements - what's his official title? - has a fun way of bellowing "DEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE for THREEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!" after each three-pointer by Brown. It's hilarious. You can just tell Brown hears that as be buckles down on defense, as do the rest of the Illini, as does the bouncing crowd, and that's when all the vibes, momentum, and good times are with Illinois. Dee Brown is a warrior and a leader and the whole joint knows it.

Of course, it always helps when Luther Head and Deron Williams are in a groove as well, which is most of the time. Both came up with their share of money moments against Wisconsin, as they always do.

All in all, it was a nice win for the Illini in a game they led virtually the entire way. The lead grew steadily larger as the game progressed. It was the latest textbook win.

Next up is a trip to Penn State, which is awash with rumors that the Nittany Lions might be joining the Big Ten in basketball. I kid, but the game with Penn State, on paper at least, concludes the Illini's toughest stretch in Big Ten play, a stretch that saw them beat Wisconsin (twice), Michigan St., Minnesota, and Indiana. These teams are 2 through 5 in the Big Ten standings, and the Illini escaped unscathed. Impressive, yes, but there's no way to look but ahead.

The stretch run has arrived. March Madness is knocking at the door.

DEEEEEEEEEEEE for THREEEEEEEEEEE!!!!

**********



I knew March Madness was just around the corner when I found myself watching games such as Austin Peay-Murray State, Buffalo-Ball State, and George Washington-Richmond with a renewed interest.

Yup, our brains our soon to be overrun by brackets and mid-majors and RPIs - and it couldn't happen any sooner.

In that vein, keep an eye on Wichita State as a Cinderella. Xavier McDaniel and Kevin Willis would be proud.

**********

For all the soccer fans out there, Diego Maradona is looking, ummm, interesting these days...



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Kyle Farnsworth is gone.

Does anyone care? I don't. Say what you will about his explosive personality, I can handle that. But Farnsworth was, for the most part, a bad pitcher. He had his moments, but they usually happened in between appearances in which he got rocked.

Perhaps tellingly, my favorite Farnsworth moment in a Cubs uniform was his takedown of the Reds Paul Wilson in 2003. That was, quite possibly, the best ass-kicking I've ever seen a pitcher give a batter who decided to charge the mound. Farnsworth may have killed Wilson if both benches didn't get involved

I love how GM Jim Hendry has systematically removed the renowned "problem guys" on the Cubs roster.

Gone is Sammy Sosa, whose reputation for egomaniacal grandstanding is legendary, and who allegedly continued his repugnant ways when he arrived in Baltimore for the first time and shook off his original ride from the airport to wait for a limo instead. I guess the original car wasn't sufficient enough to haul his spoiled ass.

Moises Alou is gone, no longer around to publicly bicker with the, ahem, TV ANNOUNCERS!

Kent Mercker was bid adieu for much the same reason. I'll give Mercker credit for one thing: when he was calling the TV booth during games to bitch about the commentary, I had to laugh. I really did. That was one of the most asinine things I've heard, yet at the time, strangely, I just had to chuckle. So thanks, Kent. Now get lost.

Finally, Farnsworth has joined them, perhaps to injure himself in Motown by kicking a fan and winding up on the injured list, as he has done before. No, no, no, not a human fan, an electric fan. In the locker room.

Besides, they only kick human fans at basketball games in Detroit.

**********



The Bears brass are pussies. All of them. The McCaskeys are arguably the worst ownership in the NFL - Cardinals fans may disagree after putting up with Dollar Bill Bidwell - and GM Jerry Angelo has no killer instinct.

A month or so ago, the Bears were looking for an offensive coordinator after firing Ron Shea. Norm Chow was out there to be hired. Granted, Chow is unproven at the NFL level, but he would have been the sexy pick. He's been a mastermind everywhere he has coached. His offenses have flourished and put up better numbers than Vijay Singh. If nothing else, Chow would have offered Bears fans some excitement and the possibility that he might be great. It would have been an aggressive move aimed at positive change.

Instead, the Bears went back in time and chose the "safe" pick in Ron Turner, who hasn't coached in the NFL since serving as the Bears OC a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Chow has signed on as the Titans' offensive coordinator.

Maybe this is why a team like the Titans almost annually contends for a playoff position, while the Bears annually jockey for a high draft position.

When will the McCaskey's leave? They must go. Now.

George Halas is surely turning in his grave.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Dude, Would You Put A Needle In My Butt?



I'm going to come out and say it: Thank you, Jose Canseco. Thank you for being just crazy enough to be a whistle blower. Thank you for showing the world the truly ugly underbelly of steroid use in baseball.

And, man, is it ugly.

Yup, dudes putting syringes into other dudes’ butts. In closets. Let that image settle in.

Now can we test for steroids...I mean, really test?

With the details of Canseco's upcoming tell-all book slowly spewing forth, the general reaction has been that Canseco is an attention-seeking, money-hunting moron who shouldn't be taken seriously.

I disagree.

Canseco may not be the most wholesome character, and his past may not be pristine, but that doesn't prevent him from telling the truth. His eyes are as reliable as anyone else's. Personally, I believe him. Why should he lie? Well, the obvious answer would be book sales (i.e., money). But the truth, as they say, is stranger than fiction. Maybe Canseco is just smart enough to see how lucrative the truth can be.

Canseco is giving up any slim hope he held onto of making the Hall of Fame someday. It wasn't likely to happen, but his book will certainly cost him any votes he may have earned.

And if Canseco's allegations tear down several tightly drawn curtains, so be it, even if that means damaging the reputation of somebody as beloved as Mark McGuire.

Sometimes you have to blow something up before you can rebuild it, and Canseco may be the dynamite. If not all of it, then at least a stick.

KABOOM!

Tear it all down.

Steroids in baseball are a joke. I'm sick of hearing about it. Everyone is sick of hearing about it. Everyone knows players do it. Everyone knows MLB executives are spineless and do very little about it. The recent upgrade in testing is a start, but it's a very weak policy. Very weak.

So if the people who run baseball don't have enough balls to fix the problem, then godspeed to a character like Canseco, dubious though he may be, for having the balls to kick open the door and watch the cockroaches quickly squirm out of the light and into the darkness.

Somebody has to do it. Sometimes the fool leads the way.

I've always had a problem with the highly glorified home run chase of 1998. People - executives, the media, fans - were so quick to jump all over that much-needed feel-good express after the strike of 1994 that they were willing to conveniently overlook the suspicion that McGuire and Sammy Sosa were juiced up.

And they were juiced up. Come on now. Do you really think otherwise?

I failed to see the beauty in the chase. I was just pissed off that poor Roger Maris, a guy who relied solely on cigarettes and beer, was being removed from the record books by juiced up muscleheads pulling one over on the American fan.

Look, professional players are getting sick. Teenage wanabees are dying. Records are being unfairly shattered.

So test. Test hard.

How many Ken Caminitis and Jose Cansecos of the world must be ignored and classified merely being "troublemakers" before the steroid situation is sufficiently snuffed out?

It's like the grandmas always say - the syringes will come out in the wash.

**********



**********



The Raptors' Rafer Alston beat up head coach Sam Mitchell last night. Unfortunately, the locker room was the venue. Doesn't he know he's supposed to do that stuff on the sidelines so the cameras can capture the mayhem and we can watch it roughly 16 hours a day on 76 channels?

The NBA is infected with thugs living the thug life.

**********

In solid NBA news, the Bulls beat the Mavericks last night - in Dallas. Nice, nice win. Just when things were looking bleak - three straight losses to open a tough month - they again display the makings of a contender. If they win in Houston tonight, it might just be their most impressive win of the season. Back-to-back. In Texas. The middle of a road trip. Very few teams pull this trick off.

Luol Deng is going to be a superstar.

Retro uni sighting on the Mavs last night, '80s-style.

**********



It's a good thing I'm liking the White Sox going into spring training this year so much.

Magglio Ordonez is officially gone. And to make matters worse, he'll face the Sox roughly 18 times a season as a member of the Tigers. Sure, it's only the Tigers, but still. And, actually, the Tigers don't look that bad this year. Allan Trammell is one of the good young managers. This could really blow up in GM Kenny Williams' face.

And to think, Maggs allegedly really wanted to stay in Chicago. That makes the breakup that much harder, and leaves Williams looking that much more Scrooge-like.

Still, as much as I hate to see Maggs officially in another uniform, this is offset by a strange fascination with these Sox...the new-look Sox. I don't know what it is. Just a feeling? Wishful thinking? Beans?

Whatever it is, I'm loving the new-look Sox. They have some new starters (Jose Contreras, Orlando Hernandez), a new center fielder in Scott Podsednek, who dates this chick, and a Japanese dude at second base. Tadihito Iguchi. If I haven't mentioned before how much I love Japanese ballplayers, I LOVE JAPANESE BALLPLAYERS!

But not like this. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Yes, Maggs is gone, and that sucks, but the fortunes of the White Sox are far from depleted. The Sox have plenty of mystery cases, which is always worrisome, but they still offer that hint of a contender, just as the Sox of Maggs and the also departed Carlos Lee and Jose Valentin always did, always to no avail. These Sox look as promising as any team in The AL Central, which doesn't look bad at all (except for the Royals, of course), and that's something to build on.

The Sox should be fun, at least. With or without Maggs.

**********

Matzalan of Mexico won the Caribbean World Series recently. White sox farmhand Francisco Campos was the named the MVP.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Hey, Remember In My Last Post...

...about the State of the Union when I said that the Iraqi woman, Sofia Taleb Souhail, who stood up during the speech looked like a fake, like she wasn't a "real" Iraqi at all? (Whatever "real" means in this case.) Well, someone less lazy than myself actually researched the situation and discovered that she was a convenient prop set up by BushCo. Who would have figured?

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Static of the Union



BEFORE THE STATE OF THE UNION:

It's 6 p.m. Wednesday. In a couple of hours Georgie will give the first State of the Union address of his second term. I'm going to watch. Why? Because he's so easy to dissect and he NEEDS to be dissected and I like dissecting him like a bug, a slimy bug with horribly awful ideas and henchmen.

And I'm bored and we all know how... (yawn) ...exciting politicians ... (stretch) ... can be. (Zzzzzzzzzzzz.)

I already know what to expect.

I expect him to say "freedom" and "democracy" and "liberty" roughly 238 times - each. (Can somebody please count how many times he actually does so and get back to me?) I'm still waiting to see what happens when the chord protruding from his back is pulled one too many times and breaks and he slumps straight ahead onto the podium and mutters in an endless loop, "freed-ocracy ... freed-ocracy ... freed-ocracy...

I expect him to say really nice things about the Iraqi people and how he did it all for them out of the kindness of his heart and how they were so brave and how he's certain they will be so brave again in the future when the chorus of bombs is still bellowing and we're no longer there to run the entire operation with...well, with a friggin' army.

I expect him to talk up his new Social Security plan. Of course, I don't expect him to mention many of the details other than some sudden desire to completely overhaul the entire system. He'll be more vague than a longterm commitment from a porn star. He'll just let us all know that he plans on taking it all apart to put something else entirely new, and assumedly not well-planned out judging by his track record, in its place. I won't pretend to be an expert on Social Security, but this worries me, it really worries me. This so-called plan, this surely blurry vision, is coming from the guy who has overseen the relentless explosion of a massive, spiraling deficit while shamelessly charging more and more to the national credit card than Anna Nicole Smith on an L.A. shopping spree wild with booze and drugs. And now are we actually supposed to listen to him spew out plans for what he THINKS will work 40 years from now? You kidding? Surely, you must be kidding. That just makes me laugh. Yeah, I believe some people, a rare lot, have the foresight to do such a thing, but not Georgie. Look, some people may have a problem with the Cubs getting rid of Sammy Sosa, but Georgie traded Sosa in 1989, which was exactly one - ONE! - home run into Sosa's career. Slammin' Sammy currently has 574 home runs. Now that's foresight!

I don't expect Georgie to say much about health care, nor much about how too many Americans don't have any, nor much about how so many Americans who get sick must also must go bankrupt because of it. Double whammy on the poor. You know, maybe Georgie WILL mention this growing problem. Maybe he'll look right into the television cameras and say, "Yeah, health care is a big, fat mess, but MY peeps are doing fine so you can all kiss my ass and screw everyone else!" Hey, at least the honesty would be refreshing.

I don't expect him to say much about the many ways the billion$ spent on war in Iraq could have been spent on something like, say, education.

I don't expect him to say much about how segments of his infamous core group of supporters, those holier than thou yahoos who think they should determine for everyone what is decent and moral, are actually in bed with the hardcore porn industry. (OK, this I don't have much of a problem with. I wouldn't mind being in bed with the hardcore porn industry myself, but I'd actually be in a BED.)

Most of all, I expect to be repulsed, aghast, and drinking hard.

But I'll watch Georgie tonight. I have to. We all do. He almost won the election in 2000 so I guess he figured that was close enough to move on into the White House (via the "internets" at his Crawford ranch) and stand in front of the American people and act like he knows what he's doing. Yup. So now here he'll stand telling us how, don't worry, he has it all figured out and he has big, big plans and, yeah, we're at war and, yeah, we're going broke, but everything is under control and freedom, democracy, freedom, democracy, freedom, democracy....

And in his wake, meanwhile, will lie fuck-ups like so many potholes in a long-abandoned road.

But here's the real test, the real gauge of tonight's speech: Will Georgie mention the Super Bowl? Everyone loves the Super Bowl. It's Super Bowl week. America at her finest! Will he mention it?

I demand that my president mention the Super Bowl during Super Bowl week. Demand it!

If not, he must be a communist, or a terrorist, or maybe when he said he never reads the newspapers he meant - gasp! - even the sports section.

As an American sports fan, I will not stand for such shortcomings in my president. Neither will Rasheed Wallace.

Below in this post I will comment on Georgie's speech after I limit my pulsing disbelief with valium and a stiff drink.

**********



That was quite an ass-whooping Illinois laid on Michigan State on Tuesday night. 81-68. Sweet.

Check out this week's Sports Illustrated for an article on the Illini. I would link it, but I think SI charges and these days I'm putting all my extra money in my Social Security fund.

By the way, Illini center Nick Smith, who SI described as "a 7'2" perimeter drifter" leaving me to wonder if "7'2"" and "perimeter drifter" should ever be mentioned in the same sentence, offered one of the better quotes I've seen in awhile: " I like to think I'm kind of bipolar."

Hahaha! I wrestle with the same question.

**********



Please don't tell me the Bulls are slipping back into their old ways. I don't feel like writing any more of my "Fuck (Insert name of a Bulls player/coach)!" rants. I though we were past that.

**********



I always figured that dealing with Kobe Bryant had to be one of Life's more horrifying endeavors, right up there with watching The View or listening to a David Hasselhoff album.

Well, it looks like Rudy Tomjanovich learned this very lesson the hard way and decided to resign as Lakers coach in a shocking move.

I wonder if Phil Jackson called up Tomjanovich and was like, "See? SEE??? Is Kobe a dick or what???"

I feel for Tomjanovich. His L.A. experiment must have been a bad, bad trip for him to bail out even before the All-Star break. I've always been a fan, ever since his Rockets teams in the mid-1990s won a couple of titles while Michael Jordan took time off from the NBA to play catch with his deceased dad in Birmingham. Hakeem the Dream. Clyde the Glide. Otis Thorpe and Kenny Smith. A young and already bald Sam Cassell. Vernon Maxwell charging into crowds to club a fan long before Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson made it fashionable. Mario Elie walking around like, "I told you mofos I never should have been rotting away in the CBA. I was playing in Albany! ALBANY! Have you ever been to Albany?!?!?"

Those were some fun Rockets teams and, strangely, often overlooked in the pantheon of back-to-back champions. Of course, just when things were really rolling for the Rocket's franchise they made the mistake of changing their uniforms to something with a cartoon on the front. This look was simple, title-worthy and classic. This look not so much. This may have been one of the dumber decisions in NBA fashion history, right up there with whomever in the current New Orleans Hornets front office waltzed into a meeting one day and proclaimed, "You know, I think we can work yellow, teal, AND purple into our color scheme."

Tomjanovich always seemed like a guy who would yell at refs all night for his players with his raspy smoker's voice and then have a beer with them in his locker room office after the game. Then he had to walk away from his gig with the Rockets, forced to battle cancer, not to mention a lifelong affection for alcohol and smokes.

But he worked it all out. Got healthy.

He decided to comeback. He seemed excited about it, wanting a job most coaches would have run away from like a child-toting mother from Michael Jackson. Taking over a Lakers team that Kobe did a wonderful job decimating through a storm of uncompromising ego looked like a bad career move for most any coach - not to mention incredibly dumb - but Tomjanovich seemed like one of the few who might make it work.

Maybe Tomjanovich's health and the eternal Kobe cloud were a volatile mix, and not good for longevity. How much of his resignation was a result of health concerns, and how much was distaste for the depressing Kobe saga, is not known (Tomjanovich said it was strictly health concerns), but he was probably wise to get out sooner than later.

I know alcohol and cigarettes are taboo for Tomjanovich these days, but I'd like to think that somewhere he poured himself (just) one drink and lit up (just) one cigarette (for old time's sake), sat back, and felt at peace with his decision.

Meanwhile, Kobe's turbulent season is helping cement my belief in karma. It looks like bickering with a coach who has nine title rings (Jackson), running off one of the best centers in NBA history (Shaq), and engaging in embarrassing spats in public with possibly the greatest power forward ever (Karl Malone) over, of all things, wives doesn't quite net positive results.

Oh, and there's that whole rape thing, which I won't even touch.

Strange how that karma thing works. Who would have figured?

**********



AFTER THE STATE OF THE UNION:

Well, Bush's speech is over. A few thoughts between Jack and Cokes and head butts into a wall...

- Dan Rather opened the CBS broadcast by saying that Bush was running late and that Bush "never likes to be late to anything."

Huh? How about adulthood? Wasn't Bush drinking hard and snorting coke until he was forty? Look, I won't judge anybody for doing such things, but Bush wasn't exactly racing towards being Mr. Responsibility. In fact, still I expect him to arrive someday, hopefully soon.

- That whole sit/stand/sit/stand clapping thing is simply embarrassing for everyone involved. Give it a rest. Enough with the shameless ass-kissing. Jeez.

- As much as I tried to pay attention to what Georgie was saying, I was very distracted by the sight of Dick Cheney and Dennis Hastert behind him. Hastert looked like he was gauging the distance to Georgie's ass to see if his tongue was long enough to reach, and I'll forever be weirded out by Cheney's outfit.

- I love how Georgie talked about cutting the deficit in half by 2009. This makes me laugh on two levels: 1) I doubt he can do it, and 2) isn't it ironic that he talks of cutting in half a record-breaking deficit that HE CREATED?

So say he does cut the deficit in half, which, again, I doubt. Wouldn't this be like a football coach saying after a game, "Well, we were down by thirty points at halftime, but we only lost by 15"?

Um, yeah, that's great and all, but YOU STILL LOST!

- I think I laughed hardest when Georgie mentioned community colleges. I was laughing too hard to fully remember what he said exactly, but community colleges are always funny.

- I stopped laughing and became fascinated with the pulsing veins in my neck when Georgie spoke of improving health care and - get this! - the environment. Hahaha! The environment? Really? Georgie has alot of balls to be mentioning the environment considering all he's done to relax laws that protect it and stuff the pockets of his cronies who profit from its destruction.

This is like Rams coach Mike Martz preaching the importance of the running game.

Don't do it, Georgie. Just don't. Don't even mention the environment. I haven't witnessed such lip service since I watched Chloe Sevigny in The Brown Bunny. Now I'm getting pissed off. Pure shamelessness on Georgie's part.

- Georgie mentioned renewable sources such as ethanol. Does he even know what ethanol is?

- How sadly ironic is it that Georgie stressed less American dependence on foreign energy as we bomb Iraq and set up oil pipelines?

- I kept hoping that every time the cameras went to a John McCain or John Kerry or Hillary Clinton a humorous bubble would pop up next to their heads a la Blind Date.

- Of course, Georgie talked of his Social Security, ahem, "plans," or "voluntary personal retirement accounts," which to me sounds a little too much like "You better save money all by your lonesome or you'll be 65-years old and fucked."

Now, my first problem with this is the word "voluntary." Why do I get the feeling that under Georgie's "plan" only the wealthy will muster enough money to "voluntarily" put it into an account.

And I particularly didn't like when Georgie started mentioning bonds and stocks and Wall street. Is he serious? He wants to take people's late-in-Life monetary security and compare it to fuckin' Wall Street, which is basically a high-stakes game where someone can lose it all in one tragic moment? And where sharks swim everywhere?

Really? Is this Georgie's "plan?"

It sounds like horseshit to me. Tweak Social Security, don't abandon it.

This isn't rocket science.

- At least the Democrats stirred up enough nerve to boo at this point in the speech, however faintly. That never happens at these ass-kissing extraveganzas. It's nice to see the Dems show the slightest hint of a spine. It wasn't much, but it was something.

- Georgie discussed "initiatives" dealing with young city men, and how they must be steered to stay out of gangs and taught to respect women.

Is it just me, or is this a thinly veiled jab at blacks and hispanics?

By "initiatives," I think Georgie meant "OK, I'll mention those damn minorities in my speech." Naturally, as he said this, the cameras scanned the room for token shots of black politicians, who have probably kissed enough white ass to get where they're at that they don't have the foggiest idea where they came from anymore. Those guys are more white than me and I'm a pasty mofo. These television broadcasts are more predictable than the Patriots making the Super Bowl.

"...and pan to the clapping black guy riiiiiiiiiight...NOW!"

- The only touching moment came when the parents of fallen Marine Sergeant Byron Norwood hugged the Iraqi chick who recently voted and whose name I'm not even going to attempt to spell.

Though more scripted than the come-ons of a stripper, it was a sad and powerful moment, although that Iraqi woman looked more like she has been living in Philadelphia or Denver or somewhere since 1998 and less like a REAL Iraqi woman actually, you know, living in Iraq and avoiding car bombs andshit.

(No, I don't know where the Iraqi woman lives, so if anyone knows please feel free to tell me and I'll admit my error.)

And, of course, there were no signs of parents of fallen soldiers who feel that their sons and daughters died in a pointless war for all the wrong reasons. There are plenty of these parents out there. But who wants to hear from them? That would be no fun, right?

- Did you see those purple-painted thumbs? You know, those thumbs painted by Republicans to represent the voting Iraqis whose votes will be disregarded while a pro-American puppet government is put in place?

Well, that was completely fuckin' tacky and classless. (Insert thumb-up-ass joke here.)

- Nope, Georgie never mentioned the Super Bowl.

Clearly, he is unfit to be president.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Tests, Tests Everywhere



The recent good times the resurgent Bulls have enjoyed are about to get harder, at least on paper.

Everyone knew February would arrive and now it has. While the young Bulls took the NBA by storm and raced up the standings for the past six weeks, one eye was always set on the upcoming stretch of games, a stretch that would test even the most experienced and successful of teams.

If road games and opponents with winning records mean anything, then February will be the Bulls' month to show how much they've grown up. All those January home games against pretenders such as the Celtics and Sixers, and the truly downtrodden Warriors and Hawks, won't be around for awhile. Not until February 15, to be exact, which will be the next date in the United Center.

In the meantime, the Bulls start an extended period of traveling in scenic New Jersey tonight, which is not the prettiest place to begin a stretch of schedule that isn't pretty.

This is a must-win game for the Bulls, as much as the struggling Nets can be called a must-beat team. Throw out the Nets' record and the absence of the injured Richard Jefferson. Tonight is about revenge and getting over humps one at a time. This whole season started with the Bulls coming from twenty-something back on the Nets on opening night only to lose in overtime - at the United Center no less. Then there was the other time the Nets beat the Bulls around Christmas, again at home, after the Bulls had led pretty much the entire fourth quarter. The Nets have been a maddening pest. Plus, there's that whole Jason Kidd and the Family thing going on, Vince Carter probably wishing he stayed in Toronto, and they're the friggin' Nets.

The Nets must be beaten.

A win in Jersey would set up a feel-good trip to Miami to face the Heat on Friday night, and this would obviously be a preview of the Eastern Conference finals.

Say what?

In the words of Stuart Scott, "BOO-YAH!" Here's to Larry Brown and Ron Artest.

OK, a penciled-in trip to the conference finals might be a stretch, but the Heat, at least right now, looks like the team to beat in the East, so beating them sooner or later would be recommended. Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade are quietly doing their thing and playing it cool. No arrests to note. No ongoing trials. No drama. (Shaq must be loving life without Kobe.) Ron Jeremy is doing a nice job on the sidelines. Who knew he could coach? And they have Shaq and Wade. Did I mention that?

The Heat game will also set up Shaq-Curry, otherwise known as Curry-Shaq around these parts.

There has been some Eddyness of late, such as his continued lack of rebounds, but some of the better moments of his young, turbulent career have come against Shaq, including a Bulls sweep of the Lakers in 2001-02, the last year Shaq and the Lakers won a title.

Friday night would be a nice night for Curry to enter the pantheon, the upper pantheon, the pantheon where the great centers play and where Curry is destined.

Say what?

BOO-YAH!

(OK, I won't do that any more.)

Again, I'm speaking with hyperbole, but if Curry wants to be recognized as a legitimately dominant center (in a conference in which there aren't many), a matchup with Shaq is the perfect stage to announce his arrival. It's a chance for the young gun to prove his worth against the celebrated master. It's a chance for eras to overlap.

Meanwhile, if Andres Nocioni can madden Wade into a technical foul, he's officially one of my favorite Bulls ever. Wade is one of the nice guys, but Nocioni has ticked off more opponents lately than a liberal in a Jerry Falwell audience.

Of course, the trips to Jersey and South Beach are only the beginning of a month that will see the Bulls play only three home games, and those games will feature a return date with the Heat as well as visits from Sacramento and Washington, contenders both.

In between, the Bulls will travel to Dallas, Houston, Minnesota, Toronto, Cleveland and Carlotte. There are no gimmes in this stretch, the Raptors and Bobcats included.

It's going to be tough.

But nobody ever said it was going to be easy.

*************



Just win, baby.

That's about all you can say about the Illini at this point.

Everyone is watching them. Everyone knows their story. Everyone wants to know when the undefeated, No. 1 team finally loses, or if it loses. They had a centennial celebration on Saturday, which marked 100 years of Illini basketball and nobody could have ever planned it better. The past has come racing to this moment right now, as it always does, and things could not be more perfect, especially to Illini fans, who have by this point stopped removing their paint face between games. And a trip to Michigan State is one of the toughest trips any team can make. Ever.

It's quite the situation the Illini have beautifully played their way into.

And that will be on the agenda tonight. All of it.

Any team, no matter good, is expected to have bad games here or there, and a trip to East Lansing has done in more than one good team.

It's a good thing the Illini don't feel pressure, or at least not much, or at least they don't show it. Win here, and talk of running the table will explode. Win here, and something has truly been accomplished in a season of many accomplishments thus far. Win here, and another dangerous trap will be skillfully averted on the desired road to titles, perfection and history.

But one game at a time, always one game at a time. Strictly business. No more talk of 'perfection.' No more talk of what lies ahead. Tonight is all that matters for now, and tonight is a good ol' fasioned Big Ten clash first and foremost.

Just win, baby.

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The lovefest in Chicago for Donovon McNabb, the South Sider, continues here.

Go Eagles.

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From the "Yeah, I Don't Think So" Dept.:

John Kerry still doesn't get it, unless bin Ladin had something to do with sapping Kerry of all charisma and ability to make a statement with any conviction. I hope this guy isn't planning on running again in 2008, but he probably is.

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I'm going to say something nice about Iraq.

I've felt a little bad lately about being such a pessimist when it comes to the complete fuck-up that is...wait...let me rephrase that...when it comes to what an interesting and important dilemma the Iraq situation is.

See, i can play nice, as long as i do so with a small i.

Anyway, I've decided that a perpetually gloomy vision of the Iraqi mess doesn't help anything. So...

Props to the Shiites and Kurds for showing up. Maybe the Sunnis will learn to play nice too, and maybe they'll start to remember to take off their wraparound bombs when they leave the house in the morning. This is incredibly absent-minded and inconsiderate of them.

The Shiites and Kurds, the silent majority, the former weaker people, the former oppressed people, stood up and said they will not be intimidated and fucked with. They have the numbers and they weren't run off by the gun-toting, insurgent jackasses who want to prevent them from using that undeniable power. There is a whole lot more Iraqis who just want to live their lives without conflict than there are morons who blow themselves up and take hostages in some ill-conceived attempt to obtain and maintain twisted power. A lot more. Don't let a few bad apples in ski masks with AK-47s taint the Iraqi population as a whole.

Power to the people.

And that ocean of people has made its intentions known. Thugs with guns and bad mustaches will no longer be ruling Iraq solely by brutal intimidation and constant fear for one's life. That shit is outdated. It's trite. It won't be tolerated.

Hopefully, from among the better and vast majority of everyday Iraqis comes someone who can lead with wisdom, and hopefully that person isn't alone. Of course, judging by politicians, oh, EVERYWHERE, I don't see that happening.

And hopefully, the Shiite and Kurd majority doesn't rule the understandably hated and suddenly outclassed Sunnis with a cruel and vengeful iron fist. This likelihood might be viewed as being doubtful, at best.

But i'm a playing nice and i'm saying nice things, you know, to not be a hater and all.

But BushCo. is still overseeing the most corrupt, inexplicably inept, and overall fucked up presidency in a long, long time.

BOO-YAH!

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"It is never too late to become what you might have been" - George Eliot

"If you don't know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else." - Yogi Berra